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Miami Marlins' new-look defense paying dividends

The Marlins wanted to improve their team in the offseason, but while offense was the focus, defense has become a major part of the story in 2015.

The up-the-middle group of Dee Gordon and Adeiny Hechavarria have looked good defensively thus far.
The up-the-middle group of Dee Gordon and Adeiny Hechavarria have looked good defensively thus far.
Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

The Miami Marlins made it a focus of their offseason to refresh the roster and add names who would provide an offensive spark to the team. The club filled in holes at first base, second base, and third base, revamping three quarters of the infield. Dee Gordon, Michael Morse, and Martin Prado were brought in to provide more offense than the ragtag crew of Garrett Jones, Donovan Solano, and Casey McGehee.

The Marlins were right to make moves to improve on those names, even if the moves themselves may have individually been questionable. One thing that has not been questionable yet is that the Fish have excelled on defense thus far this season. From Miami Herald's Barry Jackson a few weeks ago:

After another error-less game Sunday, the Marlins own the best fielding percentage in baseball and have the fewest errors (five). No other National League team entered Sunday with fewer than nine errors.

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Since then, the Fish are close to holding that distinction, as they are currently second in fielding percentage behind only the Tampa Bay Rays before last night's games. They also lead the league in runs prevented via avoiding errors, at least according to UZR.

The Marlins are boasting impressive error-less numbers, but just as importantly, they are not embarrassing themselves on the field as they had been in the past. Infield coach Perry Hill has the team playing a surprisingly strong brand of defense for the first time in what seems like ages.

The Additions

The new additions in the infield are playing a major role. Tops on the Marlins' defensive crew, according to the early advanced defensive numbers, is Dee Gordon. He has flashed the leather to the tune of three to four runs above average so far this season. He has also looked the part of a full-time second baseman, as he is now two years removed from the folly of trying him at shortstop. The Marlins were expecting an average defender at second base, but if Gordon continues to look good and make plays like this, his glove could be as much of an asset as his bat has been thus far.

Martin Prado was also expected to be an above-average defender at the third base position, and so far he has taken on the error-less streak of the Fish. Prado's numbers are currently far more subdued compared to Gordon's, but since we know Prado is an above-average defender, we can probably feel strongly that he will continue a similarly reasonable pace.

Plus, he looks good in the field too.

The lone dissenter thus far has been Morse, which is not surprising given his unathletic frame. However, prior to this year, his numbers at first base had been decent in very small samples, so it may just require more time to get the adjustment. He has scooped some nice plays at first as well, but the overall picture needs to be assessed.

Hech of a Play!

Adeiny Hechavarria is supposed to be the linchpin of this infield defense, but in recent years, there has been some controversy about how well he has played the field thus far in his career. He was a runner-up for the Gold Glove award last season, even as the defensive metrics saw him as below average in the field. We have revisited this question before, with no real consensus. It is likely that Hechavarria was always around an average shortstop, despite what the two camps thought.

So far, Hechavarria has been above average both by appearance and by defensive metric performance. He has been between two and four runs better than average so far by zone-based metrics. Revised Zone Rating, which measures plays made per an approximate number of opportunities based on "zones of responsibility," has Hechavarria having made plays on 81 percent of the balls for which he is responsible. That actually neck-and-neck with Andrelton Simmons as of right now!

Of course, neither Gordon nor Hechavarria's play is likely to continue at this absurd pace (they are slated to produce 22 and 15 runs above average in a full season at this pace), but the nice early starts could mean good things for Miami's revamped defense. These samples are entirely too small to make any real observations though, but at least they match up with the visual cues of how well Miami's infield defense has worked thus far.

Outfield Lagging

The outfield for Miami is lagging. All three of the regular outfielders and Ichiro Suzuki, the team's replacement for Christian Yelich, were all negative producers thus far. However, we knew from last season that each of these guys were more than capable. Yelich won a Gold Glove for Miami, while Giancarlo Stanton was a Gold Glove finalist and had numbers to match. Marcell Ozuna has occasionally looked out of sorts in center field, but in years past, he has appeared to be a competent, rangy fielder with a cannon arm.

Right now, each of those Marlins in the outfield have been net negatives, but with the season so early and the balls in play so uncommon thus far, we have no clue what any of that means. Given our priors that we know, we should expect a bounce back soon. If and when we do see one, the Marlins could end up boasting an overall positive defensive product, which would be the first time in seemingly ages that this has happened.

The Marlins have long talked about "pitching and defense" as their "way" of winning. It may finally be happening in south Florida for a change. Let's hope it brings wins to the Marlins in 2015.